What happens when the Alpha Male/Fifty Shades story gets gender-flipped…?
Shy musician Sebastian Stone has met L.E. Blackwood, one of the richest, most beautiful, powerful women in the business world. Fascinated by her, he can’t stop thinking about her overwhelming wit, beauty, and charm.What happens when he attends her business conference with his bubbly pal Aiden and a whole bunch of business moguls? Can Bash possibly catch Lark Blackwood’s attention when he isn’t the only one in the room?
Chuck Anderson, Aiden’s dad, greets me with a hearty handshake, as is his way. He’s a genial man, and his son inherited his gregarious personality. “Bash,” he says, giving me a thump on the back. “Glad you’re joining us! Aiden says you’ll be here for the VIP luncheon, too?”
“Uh, I guess. If it’s okay. Thanks,” I add, knowing I probably sound ungrateful. But the thought of a luncheon with her is intimidating. Especially now. “I appreciate it,” I tack on, smiling.
We make our way inside the lecture hall, which is already packed. But Mr. Anderson leads us all the way down to the front, off to one side, where our VIP seats are.
Around us, the hum of the audience is almost deafening. Even Aiden and his dad are chatting with other business-types around us. But I can’t speak. I can hardly breathe.
I keep replaying everything Miss Blackwood and I said to each other in our two brief exchanges this morning. I remember every word before she turned and walked away from me.
I remember the way her long, elegant finger touched her soft-looking, sensuous lips, and flush, and that puissant sensation curls in my stomach again.
Never have I reacted this way to a woman, ever. It’s overwhelming.
So what? my Superego rears its unwanted head. She’s a million miles out of your league! You saw the way everyone else stared at her, responded to her! Get in line, buddy, my Superego finishes with a smirk.
People are filing onto the polished-wood stage, backed with a huge high-tech projection screen in front of a sleek podium.
There are others, of course, but all I can see is Lark Blackwood. I can’t take my eyes off of her.
“Damn,” I hear one of the guys behind me, a couple stuck up, rich business-school majors from the looks of it, whisper to each other. “She’s a stunner.”
“Blackwood? Yeah, she’s something else, all right. Gorgeous!”
“Do you think she’s single?”
“I don’t think she’s ever been seen with anyone, certainly not seriously. Although she could have anyone she wants, couldn’t she?”
“Maybe I should try to find out later!”
I clench my teeth. I can’t help myself. Leaning back quickly, I murmur so that only they can hear, “Don’t bother. I heard she’s a lesbian.”
Their disappointed groans wash over me, and I smile to myself.
What made me say that? And… what if it’s true? I remember the coldness as she said “Men want too much from me.” Has that driven her to women, instead?
And why should I care?
I actually jump when the crowd starts applauding as the lights dim, and the introductory speaker steps up to the microphoned podium.
“Thank you all for joining us here today for our keynote-”
She’s standing tall and straight, so poised. Do excuse me, she said to me clipped and cold just minutes ago, striding away.
Does she know I’m right here? Can she see me, even with the stage lights?
As if she can sense my wayward thoughts, her eyes calmly scan the crowd.
Almost instantly, she sees me.
No smile. She looks at me briefly. Then, just as quickly, she looks away.
It’s like a face-punch.
Despair, desolation, crashes in the pit of my stomach. It’s irrational, but the feeling of rejection is like a white-hot knife to the heart.
“…has made her one of the richest self-made women in America. Please join me in welcoming Miss Lark Ellery Blackwood, CEO of Ellery-Blackwood Enterprises, founder, investor, and philanthropist. We are honored to have her with us at-”
My ears are ringing.
She’s onstage. Inaccessible. Bathed in golden beams of light from the spotlights all focused on her. Nothing could be more symbolic.
Miss Blackwood, Lark, steps behind the podium, and it seems like all of the attention in the room is drawn to her like a magnet draws metal.
Her voice is sure and calm, but compelling. “A very wise man once said to me, ‘If you want to succeed in life, if you want to move away from the pack, you have to see what you want and go for it. And never, ever accept no for an answer.’” She smiles a little. “That man was my grandfather, Harrison Blackwood, and he told me that after a great and profound personal loss.” She pauses for a heartbeat, then goes on. “I have clung to that sentiment in times of trouble, and felt it is relevant not only for work, but for life as well.”
I feel goosebumps as she speaks, and I remember what she told me when we were talking in the lobby.
Her mother and her grandmother, both dead when she was a child.
Her father, leaving her, moving to Spain with a new wife. Having a new family, without her.
Raised here by her grandfather.
Something in my heart twists at the thought of her as a child, a little girl, lost, alone, unhappy, those big, beautiful blue eyes filled with haunting tears. I can imagine her as she might have been, a small figure relegated to the shadows of a house too big for her, red-gold curls tumbled around her face, so sad. No one truly there for her, not like she needed.
No wonder she is so controlled, reserved. Aloof, even. It all makes sense.
She has to be. She’s had no choice.
I suspect she would be angry with me if she knew what I was thinking, that I was sitting just a few feet away from her, and feeling pity for her. I remember how her voice iced over and her eyes flashed at me.
It is not a pleasant memory, and I wince.
Now, as she speaks to the packed room, she embodies pride and confidence. “How can we truly live, truly succeed, when we accept only refusals as the final answer? If we take ‘no’ as an irrevocable end, we never challenge ourselves to grow. If we never grow, we never can succeed. Frankly, then we don’t deserve to.”
Her charm, her magnetism is palpable. The entire audience is rapt as she outlines strengths, values, thinking big, strategic entrepreneurship.
Her voice, that rich, almost savory tone, washes over me again, like before. I can hardly concentrate on what she says. I’m so taken, enraptured even, by how she says it. As her slender hands hold the podium, all I can think about is the electrical feeling when those fingers touched mine for the first time.
Was it only less than five hours ago that I met her? It feels like everything’s been turned upside-down since then.
“But we cannot just take,” Lark Blackwood continues, her blue eyes intense. “We also have to give. Give of ourselves. Our time. Our talents.”
She is the head of one of the most powerful companies in the country, and yet she is advocating generosity, sacrifice, philanthropic action.
She really is extraordinary, I can’t help but marvel.
So beautiful, but she cares, too. It’s not all surface with her. I reach into my pocket for that folded bill that she slid across the counter to me just this morning. “You can keep the change,” she had said in that smooth but husky cadence of hers. “I know tips are important to baristas.” Kindness. Awareness. Consideration.
I unfold the twenty for the first time since she gave it to me, and as I do, I can’t control my gasp.
It’s folded around another bill.
My head jerks up, and I stare across the heads in the row in front of me to her lithe form onstage, bathed in light, my mouth open.
As if she hears the tumult in my head and heart, she finally, finally looks at me again.
It’s like lightning bolts shoot through me, like I’m Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life.
I know that she can see I am holding the hundred dollar bill in shock.
She gives me the briefest nod and quirk of the lips, so brief that I’m the only one who notices it.
Of course you are the only one who notices it, pipes up my Id in fervent delight. You’re the only one in this crowd who knows what it means!
“And as I always say,” she continues, her eyes locked on mine, “there is no such thing as luck. Not in business. Not in life.”
She said that to me this morning. It’s just her and I, I think foolishly. She’s sending me a message.
What is it?
When the rest of the place bursts into a climactic applause, I am startled, and break the eye contact between us.
Break the spell.
Gulping, I quickly put the money back into my pocket, and join the others in rising for a standing ovation.
Next to me, Aiden jogs me with his elbow. “Good stuff, huh?”
“Learned a lot.”
“And don’t think I didn’t notice how she was looking at you, either.”
My jaw sags. “What?!”
He wiggles his eyebrows lasciviously. “Dude. You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
I shake my head, and make a production of joining the throng leaving for an intermission before the breakout sessions. There are a thousand reasons why she might have looked at me, I rationalize. I’m a familiar face. I’m sitting right up front in the second row. A trick of the light. Maybe my face is so flushed it glows in the dark. Who knows?
Or she wanted to intimidate you, my Superego is back, snarky as ever.
The VIP lounge area is buzzing even more than it was before the keynote started, and, when Lark Blackwood steps into the room, there is an impromptu but heartfelt ovation.
She nods briefly in acknowledgement, pausing to accept a handshake from one Three-Piece-Tailored-Suit, a cheek-kiss from another.
Working the room.
But, like in those old-fashioned movies, from across the room, she finds me again, and her burning, intense blue eyes catch mine. That secretive ghost of a smile touches her lips once more.
Heat climbs in my face. My chest. My stomach.
I’m standing there with Aiden and his father, but nothing else matters but her.
Oh, God, and now she’s walking over to us and-
My heart slams into my throat, choking me.
“Chuck,” she says smoothly to Aiden’s father, holding out a hand for a handshake. “A pleasure to see you again. You’ve put together an effective gathering of people today.”
“Miss Blackwood, the pleasure is all mine,” Mr. Anderson says, an almost goofy smile on his face as he shakes her hand with a courtly little bow.
Honest to God.
I roll my eyes, but try not to show it.
“The speech was fantastic. Very motivational. I think everyone got a lot out of it.”
“I’m pleased to hear that.”
“Have you met my boy, Aiden?”
“Yes, I’ve met the coffee mogul.”
“Pop, I told you, Miss Blackwood came into the cafe this morning.”
“And I hope you found everything to your satisfaction? I know my son runs a good business. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Of course.” She’s pleasant, but in a noncommital way.
“And this is Aiden’s friend and roommate, Sebastian Stone,” Mr. Anderson introduces.
“Oh, yes, I know Bash,” she murmurs, turning her inscrutable gaze on me again.
“We met at Club Coffee this morning,” she adds, a touch of mischief in her voice again. “I’m afraid I came in before the shop was opened for business. But Bash very kindly fixed me a lovely espresso despite the obvious inconvenience.” Suddenly, she smiles, a full, dazzling, brilliant, nothing-held-back smile that is brighter than anything I’ve ever witnessed in my short life. “I do hope he feels I compensated him fairly for his time.”
My mouth opens, then closes again, but no sound comes out.
Before I can say anything, there are four more Pin Striped Suits joining us, chattering and babbling about things that are way out of my league. Asking her questions. Holding her attention in ways I know I never could.
“When you were in Tokyo, how did you find the Omotesando offices?”
“Chessy wants to know if you’re still driving the Aston and what you think of it?”
“Fly down to LA, darling. We’ll go for sushi at Urasawa again.”
“You have to tell Horton about that designer you recommended to me off the Avenue Montaigne!”
I can hardly tell the men and women apart, they’re so alike in their fancy bespoke businesswear and professional haircuts and expensive wristwatches and cellular phones.
I let myself be pushed to the outskirts of the crowd.
I watch as she mingles with people who are more to her level than I am.
To my surprise, Aiden joins me after a few minutes.
“Dude, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think the elusive L.E. Blackwood is way into you!” he hisses.
I shake my head, but I still can’t speak. My stomach feels like it’s been braided.
“So? Bash, c’mon!”
All I can do is shrug.
Aiden shakes his head and chuckles. “Wow. You, struck dumb over a woman. That’s a first!”
“I’m not struck dumb,” is all I can say.
Inside my pocket, my fingers touch that hundred dollar bill again.
“I do hope he feels I compensated him fairly for his time.”
Was that what this is? “Fair compensation for my time”? Or is this some sort of a weird, business-world power play I can’t begin to understand?
Either way, I can’t keep it. I have to give it back to her.
The thought makes me quake with nerves.
“And,” Aiden adds, elbowing me, “she still won’t take her eyes off of you.”
Or is she looking at him? She keeps calling him the “coffee mogul,” she’s a businesswoman, so surely she’s more impressed with Aiden than me?
“I doubt it,” I mutter.
“I know what I’m seeing,” he says.
Sure enough, even though she’s a perfectly gracious guest, chatting with the others, past them, her eyes lock with mine again, almost mockingly. Like she’s… I don’t know, sharing a joke with me.
“Still, be careful,” Aiden starts to say, concern written all over his face. “She’s gorgeous and smart, but she… might be too much for someone like you.”
I can’t help feeling offended. “Someone like me?” I parrot incredulously.
“Well, yeah, you know, wide-eyed and innocent. She might be dangerous to-”
He’s thankfully interrupted by Mr. Anderson announcing, “The breakout sessions are about to start. Miss Blackwood, will you be attending the marketing and strategy meeting, or the Guided Technologies presentation?”
“Actually,” she says softly, “I could use a few minutes of peace and quiet. But I don’t have time to go back to my hotel before the luncheon,” she adds regretfully.
The mass of businesspeople start yapping suggestions.
“Sweetie, why don’t I take you for tea at-”
“-the spa, have a quick fifteen-minute massage-”
“-a quick walk outside around-”
“There’s the tavern here,” I point out, surprising myself. “It’s probably pretty quiet this early in the day.”
Lark Blackwood smiles at me. That dazzling, gorgeous smile that I feel in every vein in my body. “Well, then, Bash, why don’t you show me where it is?”
MBO Playlist, Evanescence, “Good Enough”